Kerry Perkinson is waiting to bring her little girl home from China. Like all adoptive parents, the wait for paperwork to grind its way through the proper channels can be aggravatingly slow, especially when milestones such as her daughter’s fourth birthday are just around the corner.
But for Kerry and other parents like her who live in Illinois, the wait can be infuriating. “My daughter has untreated hydrocephalus. We were given pre-approval by China on November 3 and completed all our home study paperwork in a matter of weeks,” Kerry says. Even though Kerry and her husband were diligent in doing their part of the paperwork, they still have not been able to apply for the initial immigration permission, the last piece of paper for their home study, because their home study has yet to be approved by Department of Children and Family Services, a requirement in Illinois.
“We were praying to travel in July, but there is no hope of that now,” Kerry bemoans. It also means a little girl waits with a condition that can cause permanent brain damage if left untreated.
So what is the current state of intercountry adoptions if you happen to live in Illinois? “Slow” seems to be the best description.
The Hague Convention requires that all parents who wish to adopt have child abuse clearances done for every state they have lived in since they were 18. Those clearances are currently taking 10 weeks to process in Illinois. In other states, these approvals take a couple of weeks at most. This is hurdle number one.
Illinois is also one of the handfuls of states in the country that require approval at the state level of home studies, an additional step beyond normal approval by a state-licensed social worker. Families are currently waiting a minimum of five weeks for their home studies to be approved by the state.
Curious as to how the process in Illinois really stacks up against other states, I contacted CCAI Adoption Services, a placement agency located in Colorado with experience in placing children all over the US. They concur that Illinois’ process is grueling.
“Illinois is a highly regulated state for domestic and international adoptions, similar to the state of Colorado. It is in keeping with regulations under Hague, to protect the children that are being adopted. HOWEVER, the Illinois home study approval process can be cumbersome and lengthy compared to the same process in all other states,” they wrote in an email.
The email goes on to say, “Illinois’ process is LONG. For example, Colorado’s approval process is less than one week, largely because it is privatized. This prevents state resources from being bogged down, and since the privatized approving agency is regularly audited by the state, it helps keep the process clean and by requirements.”
Illinois’ process, with the home studies being reviewed by one person in the Department of Children and Family Services, “seems vulnerable to the individual bias(es) of the coordinator responsible for review/approval.”
Ann McKinney knows firsthand about the system being vulnerable to personal biases. Ann and her husband were approved by their social worker to pursue adoption and turned in their home study to DCFS to be approved.
“We have nine children under 18 and were originally told NO WAY, but were not issued a formal decline letter. XXX [the individual approving international adoption for Illinois] said some really mean things about our family and large families in general… and then gave us a list of documents to get to her,” Ann writes, describing their last experience in adopting in Illinois.
The list of additional documents, on top of the very long list any adoptive family must supply for a home study, included a letter from her doctor describing each child’s medical/physical needs; three additional references from people in the community; a statement from their daughter’s hematologist; the name and agency of their daughter’s home health care nurse; copies of home studies from each of their previous adoptions and the dates they were finalized; the grade level each child was working at and any progress they had made since joining their family; an additional guardian for the children named and a statement from them; and proof that they purchased extra life insurance as demanded by DCFS.
Ann and her husband were able to submit the additional documents within three days, and then they waited. “It took nine weeks, but she finally approved us, but she said she never wants to see our name across her desk again.”
Part of the difficulty, it seems, is that the state doesn’t really differentiate between foster care and adoption. Like many other states, there is a household capacity limit of six children when providing foster care. Unlike other states, Illinois also applies this to adoption. This means that families who have six or more children and would like to adopt have very limited options. One of those options is to adopt internationally from a country where the child’s adoption is finalized in the child’s country of origin.
Peter and Patty Mueller ran into difficulty with this when they were in the process to adopt their two children from Ethiopia. At that time, Ethiopia only required one trip, but that was after the adoption had been completed by the Ethiopian courts. As a result, the children would come home on an IR-4 visa, with the adoption and the children’s subsequent citizenship happening in US courts after they arrived home. Because the Muellers already had six children, they did not qualify for a foster care license due to Illinois’ capacity rules.
Patty says, “Our only recourse if we wanted to increase our family through adoption from Ethiopia, was to make two trips; one before our scheduled court date in Addis Ababa and one after court to bring our children home. This would allow our children to enter the US on an IR-3 visa, granting them automatic US citizenship and circumventing the need for a foster care license, since the US government and the state of Illinois would recognize us as their parents, not their legal guardians. The extra money for the second trip wasn’t really in our budget.”
I will admit that I am not a completely disinterested observer of the way my state treats families who wish to adopt. We have experienced DCFS bullying during the home study review process, and we are currently stuck in the endless wait for child abuse clearances, which is merely the prelude to the endless wait for our home study approval. I will also admit that when we saw our daughter’s picture and were trying to decide if we should adopt her, the single biggest item in our “against” column was having to do a home study and get it approved by Illinois again.
The last time we adopted, we had nine children at home, and nothing had changed from our previous home studies except that my husband’s salary had increased and we had more children. Much like Ann McKinney’s experience, ours was not fun. While our social worker approved us with no reservation, it took nine weeks and multiple requests for more information to receive approval from DCFS: We answered the same questions over and over because our first answers were deemed untruthful; we had to supply at least four more references from the community; we provided detailed schedules of what our children did each day, and we had to include a water safety form. This form is designed to show that parents have a plan to keep children safe from water hazards in their yards—pools, ponds, streams. We had to complete it for Lake Michigan, a body of water a half a mile and a major street crossing away. I’m not really looking forward to going through it again.
So Illinois families wait and wait and wait, sometimes adding up to three months or more to the process. In the meantime, children sit in orphanages, sometimes with untreated medical conditions, for those extra months—months when they could be home with their new families.
And I would really love to know why. Why is it acceptable for our state to take such a callous view of children and families? Why is it acceptable that parents are treated with distrust even after the visits and clearances and studies have demonstrated their suitability as parents? Why must children suffer at the hands of state bureaucracy?
I have recently sent several inquiries to Illinois state legislators and the newly elected governor seeking answers to these questions. I hope that someday soon Illinois will recognize the human costs of its current systems and the value of supporting, rather than thwarting, adoptive families.
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